Vail Daily column: Movement, strength and power can enhance your later years |

Vail Daily column: Movement, strength and power can enhance your later years

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

It has been a busy week answering phone calls about my article a few weeks ago. A wrote about a recent study linking longevity with mobility and strength. The researchers found that people ages 51 to 80 who were unable to get up unassisted were much more likely to die within the next seven years compared to those who could. This clearly has stirred up anxiety within this demographic, and people are certainly looking at fitness differently.

Since I have your attention, don’t panic if you cannot get-up off of the floor unassisted. It’s just a study. For every study that suggests a certain outcome, there is another study that will suggest otherwise. However, I think this study highlights some underlying characteristics of what it means to be fit for people who have been around this planet for a while. Today I will highlight how to prioritize your fitness program if you’re into your golden years.


The first priority is to quantify your musculoskeletal health. It’s extremely important to have a clinician or trained coach objectively screen your movement for deficiencies. There are specific screens such as the Functional Movement Screen and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment, but regardless there are many ways to address movement health.


Secondly, if you have a pain response during movement, it’s important to be assessed by a medical practitioner. Rarely is it OK to exercise with pain. Don’t be cavalier towards pain.

It has been my experience that older people tend to display movement deficiencies such as poor mobility. The key to increasing joint mobility is to engage in regular yoga practice or practice a proper dynamic stretching routine. A good coach will always prioritize a good dynamic stretching routine for anyone regardless of age. Dynamic stretching is a technique in which you’re using movement to cause specific joints and soft tissue to elongate. This is quite different from passive or static stretching; dynamic stretching calls specific muscles into contraction causing the opposite or antagonist muscle to relax enabling you to elongate that relaxed muscle. Typically within a few weeks of dynamic stretching, movement health can be greatly improved. Once you have improved mobility, joint stability should be considered.


The stabilizers are local muscle groups that dampen movement around the joint. They put the brakes on to keep a joint within safe ranges of motion and help tighten areas of the body to allow efficient energy transfer throughout the joints. Exercises like planks, side planks and certain stability ball exercises are popular stabilizing exercises. However, I feel too many trainees spend excessive time here; deep stabilizing muscles are reflexive and don’t always need targeted training for development. For example, if you squat down, your spine stabilizers reflexively activate to maintain your segmental spinal integrity. You don’t have to think about activating these muscles, they do it anyway to protect your spine. Training movements alone often build the requisite stability needed for life and function. Always remember the body operates through movement patterns, not specific muscle contractions. Train movements and you will build stability.


After proper joint mobility and optimal stability is acquired, strength development should be the priority. I had a trainee come in for an evaluation some years ago. She had optimal range of motion and was extremely limber. Even though she performed mat pilates twice per week for years, she didn’t have the requisite strength to stand up out of a chair without the assistance of her arms. Strength development for individuals into their golden years doesn’t need to be a lofty expectation either. If you can get out of a chair with spunk, and get up off the floor without making a scene, you are likely strong enough. Nonetheless, it appears most people in this demographic struggle with these tasks, and I spend a great deal of time correcting this.

After strength has been acquired through training, power development is absolutely essential. Power is essentially the ability to display strength quickly. Power, not balance, is what helps people recover from slips on ice for example. When you slip on ice, it’s your brain and consequently your muscles’ ability to contract quickly to regain your footing and composure avoiding the fall. Power development is rarely addressed within this demographic because of fear of injury. To develop power, you must train with quick exertions; a good coach will judiciously select exercises to reap maximum reward safely. One of my favorites is jumping rope. This develops quickness safely with a very low amplitude and displacement of movement. Another great power developer for baby boomers is to get up out of a chair as quickly as possible and proceed to shuffle sideways between cones for a designated number of seconds. The critical advice I can offer is that strength promotes power, and a good baseline of basic strength is a wise pursuit before addressing power.

Lastly, understand I never mentioned aerobic training, not because it isn’t important, but rather most people in the Vail Valley have plenty of it. Also, these guidelines have been based on my own personal experience and individual differences are always a variable to consider. Regardless, playing gracefully into your later years are enhanced by focusing on movement, strength, and power. I hope this article encourages our older residents to stay encouraged and keep charging ahead. Stay strong!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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